Thursday, August 27, 2015

Summertime Is TV Time

Summer has always been TV catch-up time in our household.


We have a handful of summer shows, to be sure, but our big start-of-summer project is binge-watching all the things we put off during the year.


So, hey, here’s the stuff we knocked out over the last two months.


Parks and Recreation:


We burned this one off in a week, and honestly, I’m surprised it took that long.


It’s far too rare that a show knows that it’s ending, and it’s even more rare when they have an entire year to plan.  Parks knew it’s last season was coming, and they didn’t have to live in fear of ending halfway through a season, or of suddenly getting renewed. 


When they were gone, they were gone.


And so we got what might not have been the BEST season of Parks, but one that was certainly the most gratifying.


Even with the short order, we eventually got two seasons of TV.  The first one was Leslie winning one more big park.  If the show had ended there, it would have been perfectly lovely and I’m sure that fans of the show would have been overjoyed to see it happen.


Then came the second half of the season, which a friend of mine dubbed: Everyone gets what they want.


And it really was.


The “second” season was, quite simply, one person after another wrapping up their bits of business and moving (happily) on to whatever came next. 


In certain hands, things like that don’t work.


(See: The last season of Glee, where everyone spent the latter half of the season bouncing around aimlessly and pointlessly, and then we got the season finale where everything turned out AMAZING for everyone, ever.)


But with Parks… I dunno.  I guess I just wanted these people to be happy.  Which is dumb, since they aren’t real people, but still…


In all seriousness, however, the season worked because it was earned.  And while the laughs weren’t always as big as in previous seasons, we got Leslie and Ron in their own episode, which deserves about 15 Emmys.  And we got a whole show where Chris Pratt got to be completely ridiculous, and proved why he’s suddenly a massive box-office star who can carry three giant movies in two years.


And there are all the flash-forwards in the finale, where we get to see how awesome everything becomes. 


Too sappy, probably.  And in years to come I can see people claiming it’s a weak season that spent too much time making everyone’s lives too perfect.  But I don’t care.




Community season six. 


So, that happened.  On Yahoo.


Community has long been a show under the gun, which turned the last three seasons into… I’m not even sure.  Something bizarre, that’s for sure.


We’ve got the fourth season, where the creator was gone and the show kinda-sorta carried on and was still funny, but not quite right. 


There was the fifth season, where the creator came back and two cast members left, and the show once again never quite found its bearings.  It was funny, it had some great episodes, but it was a lesser show.  One that spent a lot of time trying to recreate fan-favorite episodes in a sort of greatest-hits way.


And then there was the sixth season.  Where everything really started to crumble.


The problem can be pretty easily summarized in two parts:


First, I think they were just out of stories to tell.  That’s not abnormal for a sixth-season show, really.  They tried to do some of-the-moment stories, tried to revisit some well-loved bits of business, and while the show was still funny, it often felt like one more return to the well.  A victory lap for a for that wasn’t quite up to taking one.


Second: The cast.  They lost two cast members last year, and another one this year.  Except, they also lost the two cast members they built up LAST year to replace the two they lost in the first place.


So they slotted some people in, and the new guys were game, but… this show was, at its center, about a tight-knit group of friends who ended up together despite their differences.


And by the end, it was about a bunch of people in each other’s orbit for no real reason.


In particular, Abed spent the entire season stranded.  Without Troy to bounce off of, he went from a fun character who existed in his own world but took Troy along with him… to an oddball who never really connected with anyone.


That might be why the final episode worked as well as it did for me.  In the end, everyone (just about) headed off into the world, indicating that, yes, the show was over, and that, yes, things change and that’s both hard and sad.


Was it a terrible year?  I think the “true” fans, as opposed to the casual ones like myself, were probably hit the hardest by this year, and I’m glad that the final plug is finally pulled. 


Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt:


I’m going to say something NO ONE else has been willing to say:


NBC was right.  They were right to cancel and/or never air this show.


They were right to keep it away from themselves.


They were right to let Netflix pick it up.


And here’s why. In an alternate universe, critics pick up the first few episodes of Kimmy.  They review it, and it falls into the B/B-/C+ arena.


And why not?  It’s an odd show, with odd characters that work very hard to exist in a semi-fantasy world.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a sitcom after all, but I can easily see the first episode barely grabbing an audience, a second losing half the people who saw the first, and then it’s gone.


Whereas, the way it was released, well, it’s Netflix.  You turn the show on, and you let it roll.


That’s where Kimmy starts to work.  It’s not that it’s bad at first, but it takes a while to settle in and get used to the odd little fantasy world that’s somewhat like the real world, but not really.  And it’s perfectly bite-sized, which means you can watch an episode while you eat your dinner, watch another while you eat dessert, and then run through two more as you think about doing other things but figure you’d rather sit on your comfy couch and, you know, NOT do chores.


Three nights of that, you’ve watched the first season, and you’re kind of in love with the show.


Look, the show is funny.  Sometimes it goes for big laughs, but mostly it’s the charming story of a girl who spent ten years in an underground bunker, her gay roommate, and various other weirdos who cross her path.


It’s a charming show, and charming works better when you can control the pipeline a bit. 


I’m happy that Kimmy got a full season, and I’m also happy that it’s getting a second one.  I’m curious to see what they can do with the world they built.


I’m more curious to see if this should have stayed one delightful, charming, season. 


We shall see.

Speedy Review: Armada

So lately, I’ve been hung up on writing these long, long, long essays that detail everything ever about my experience with something.

So now we’ll try something new – a short review, just to see if I can pull it off.

Armada is the latest novel from Ernest Cline, who made a big splash a couple of years ago with the novel Ready Player One.  This was after his first movie took years and lots of re-editing to come out.

At any rate, Ready Player One came out with lots of geek cred authors all over the back cover, praising it like nothing else.

As for me, I thought it was an impressive pulling together of a bunch of generation X nerd culture.  Is was the kind of book I had trouble recommending to friends, because the plot was paper-thin, but the game of spot the reference was kind of fun.

And now, only a couple of years later, I can barely recall the plot. 

So perhaps I wasn’t the best bet for being a fan of Armada.

The super-short plot synopsis.  We’ve got a main character, who is a boy.  He likes to play a video game called Armada.  His dad was killed years ago in an industrial accident, but he left behind a lot of notebooks detailing a possible conspiracy having to do with video games.

Finally, after 50-some pages, we learn that Armada was actually a simulator created to teach the world how to fight an alien invasion.

And of course, our protagonist is high up in the game rankings, so he’s being recruited.

Which is to say, if you’ve seen the movie The Last Starfighter, you’ve kind of read this already.

Is it exactly the same?  No.  But what we have here is, once again, Cline mining his lost youth for references.  Our hero idolizes his dead dad, who is, of course, just about Cline’s age.  So he loves that era of nerdery and talks about music and video games that your average 17-year-old probably isn’t terribly familiar with.

Much like in Ready Player One, I never really invested in any of the characters, even though Cline clearly went out of his way to attempt some emotional scenes for them.

And as the book progresses, it morphs from a Last Starfighter story until it essentially becomes (spoiler alert, I suppose) Ender’s Game, in far, far, far too many ways.

The book itself also seems… rushed, I guess.  After a too-long 50 page setup, the book never really stops moving but not in a relentless, fun way.  Instead it feels like Cline knew he had a deadline coming up, waited until the last possible second, and then bashed out a first draft.

Or perhaps, as sometimes happens, he sold the book on a pitch or an outline, and didn’t realize until it was too late that he was essentially photocopying a couple of older books/movies.

No matter.

In its favor, the book glides by quickly, so… there’s that.

Cline apparently already has another novel in the pipeline.  I’ll be curious to see what it’s about, but I really, really hope he goes in a bit of a different direction this time.

I wish him luck.